The Denver Nuggets are one of the more exciting young teams in the NBA. They have returned to their high-tempo offense, capitalizing on the high-altitude and skills of their young core. Led by analytics legend and budding star Nikola Jokic the Nuggets will be looking to avenge their 9th seed from the 2017-2018 season. If Paul Millsap can remain healthy and one of Jamal Murray or Gary Harris can take the next step to be a legitimate second option, then the Nuggets could be a strong candidate to be a playoff team for the 2018-2019 season. Because of their youth and obvious talent, the Nuggets will be a team that the likes of Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets will try to avoid in the first round of the playoffs. Here is the Nuggets Season Preview:
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Denver Nuggets Season Preview
2017-2018 Record: 46-36 (9th in the Western Conference)
What Worked Last Season
The emergence of Nikola Jokic as an All-Star caliber player along with two talented scorers in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris was most notable last season. Jokic recently inked a five-year $148-million maximum contract extension on the heels of the 2017-2018 season. During his 75 games, Jokic averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists on 50% FG% and 39.6% on his three-point attempts. What makes Jokic such a dangerous threat is his ability to pass the ball, constantly finding open shooters. The offense is completely geared for him to create for others, as he averaged 30% of his team’s total assists. The only non-point guards to average more assists per game than Jokic were Draymond Green and LeBron James, although James plays like a point guard most of the time.
Apart from Jokic, this is a team that has a lot of scoring depth. While Jokic is the unquestionably the star of the team, there were six other players who averaged at least 10 ppg in the 2017-18 season; Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Wilson Chandler, and Trey Lyles. They love to space the floor and were the seventh best three-point shooting team in the league last season. Jamal Murray continued to make tremendous strides, nearly doubling his points per game while improving his FG% by 5 points and 3pt% by 4 points.
What Needs Improvement
To say Denver was not a great defensive team would be generous. They ranked 26th in defensive rating while allowing 109 points per game. What must be even more frustrating for Denver fans is that opponents were scoring easily on them. They ranked dead last in opponent field goal percentage at 47% and dead last in opponent 3pt field goal percentage at 38%. It is a miracle that they came as close to the playoffs as they did last season with one of the worst defenses in the league. This is a common problem when you have a young team, as it takes players longer to learn the intricacies of defense.
The good news for Head Coach Mike Malone is that his team has another year of experience and they have length and switchability all over the floor. Lyles, Barton, Murray, Harris, Malik Beasley, and Mason Plumlee should be able to guard multiple positions and switch on pick and rolls, something that is crucial for modern defenses. They also have Paul Millsap, the veteran of the team, and probably their best defender returning after only playing 38 games last season.
The Nuggets seem to have offloaded some of their bad contracts and unwanted players during the off-season. In July, the Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for a protected 2019 first round pick and a 2020 second round pick to the Brooklyn Nets. Isaiah Whitehead was also sent to Denver but was waived. Faried, who was once considered one of their most promising young players had fallen out of Malone’s rotation last season. Arthur only played in 19 games and averaged 2.8 points and 0.8 rebounds per game. Neither was a part of Denver’s future and the team did well to gain future assets in return for two guys who probably would not play this season.
The Nuggets then added two wild cards to their roster, the first through the draft and the second through free-agency. The first was the former McDonalds All-American and Gatorade Player of the Year, Michael Porter Jr. from the University of Missouri. Porter Jr. fell to Denver after having his second surgery on his back prior to the draft. Once thought to be a potential first overall selection, he missed all but three games in his one year at Missouri. It will be a while before he is ready to play while he continues to rehab, but if Porter Jr. manages to stay healthy he has arguably the most potential in the draft. He has been compared to Kevin Durant because of his size, length, and smooth shooting ability. Denver is hoping that he can become their second All-Star.
The second player has struggled with injuries in the last few seasons, Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive point guard who has struggled with hip injuries since his All-Star season for the Boston Celtics. He is a dynamic scorer, able to use his speed to score at will and can be a blur in transition. It is unclear whether Denver wants Thomas or third-year guard Jamal Murray to be the starting point guard this year. Both are dynamic scorers and can provide a spark off the bench, but Murray is far younger and has better size than the 5’9 Thomas.
2018-2019 Season Prediction
In the hectic western conference, the Denver Nuggets will aim to make the playoffs and improve on last season. While their team is better this season, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and New Orleans Pelicans all improved. With so many defensive questions, Denver fans should be happy if they finish 8th in the west and manage to win a single game against either the Rockets or Warriors in the playoffs. The team should be looking at individual improvement, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Their young players lowering their turnovers and improving their shooting percentages. This is a team that is looking towards the future and this is another season of player development.